African Swine Flu on the agenda at business infor session
The Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), as the peak body representing private sector in the country, is supportive of measures taken by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) to contain the spread of the African swine flu into Solomon Islands.
MAL highlighted the measures they have taken against the African swine flu to members of the business community during an information session on Monday 10th February in Honiara, hosted by SICCI so that businesses can understand how it relates to their operations.
The African swine fever is an infectious viral disease that can affect domestic and feral pigs of all ages. There is 80-100% mortality rate. There is no treatment or vaccine available as yet.
Presentations were made by MAL’s Director of Livestock and Vet Services, Mr Barny Keqa, Director of Biosecurity, Mr Francis Tsatia and Permanent Secretary, Ms Ethel Francis who responded to questions that were raised by concerned business representatives.
Mr Keqa highlighted that the African swine flu has a severe impact and implications for nutrition and food security with the high impact most apparent in countries with a significant commercial pig industry.
“But this does not mean that smallholder pig farmers are in any way spared. Great losses can usually be inflicted on the poorer pig producers who are less likely to implement effective prevention (i.e. biosecurity) and control strategies,” he said.
To protect Solomon Islands, Director Mr Tsatia said his Division is strengthening the country’s biosecurity measures for permitted and unpermitted products using the power under the Biosecurity Act 2013.
“Jerky, biltong and other small goods containing pork are not permitted into Solomon Islands. They cannot be brought in by international passengers or sent through mail because they pose a high biosecurity risk and could carry the African swine flu.
“There is also a temporary ban for commercial imports of pork and pork products for human consumption and this will soon include canned pork,” Mr Tsatia said.
Other measures include increased interventions at the country’s border.
“This includes heightened screening for pork products at airports and mail centres. We have placed African swine flu signage at our two international airports so that passengers know what is at stake and encouraged to declare pork items.
“We are working with airlines to request their assistance in passing on information to passengers about declaring risk items, including pork products. There is no x-ray machine or detector dog at the border. It’s all 1010% manual,” the Director said.
Mr Tsatia further stated that MAL have adopted a stronger enforcement approach to biosecurity infringements and will be focusing on pork and other meat products.
“The penalties we issue to passengers reﬂect the seriousness of the breach. Travellers who provide false or misleading information can receive an infringement notice with a penalty amount of $3000 or be referred for civil penalty proceedings or criminal prosecution. Companies face up to $1m in fine.”
“We are also thinking of adopting Australian immigration law where international passengers who breach the Biosecurity Act 2013 by failing to declare high‐risk biosecurity items could also have their visitor visa cancelled,” he said.
Sullivans and Nambawan Meat Limited is one of the local businesses affected by the ban as they rely heavily on imported pork to that are then processed into their signature products.
Marketing Manager, Mr Neil Constantine is concerned because at the moment they are not allowed to bring in pork into the country, so they are losing that aspect of their business.
“So, we want to know, is there any alternative option where we can still bring in pork, maybe have a vet to check if it’s healthy or safe to bring in while we work on building up our local pork industry,” Mr Constantine questioned the officials from MAL during the information session.
“Until local farmers can supply the full demand, and meet the quality and health standards as well, there is no middle ground. So in between, there should be an alternative measure put in place for that transaction,” he added.
Permanent Secretary, Ms Francis assured that the Ministry will impose some flexibility with pork imported from both Australia and New Zealand.
“That will help, because most of the pork that are coming into the country comes out of New Zealand and Australia. Reason for that is it’s cheaper, they have more strict regulations and also consistency in features such as the ratio of meat to fat. So, if there is flexibility in bringing in pork from these two countries that would ease the severity of this ban for us affected businesses,” Mr Constantine responded.
In an interview at the end of the Information Session, the Director of Biosecurity, Mr Tsatia said this year Government has allocated $2.5 million to support pig farmers who need that extra funding to meet food safety standards, since that is the main issue for local farmers.
“Our farmers currently do not have proper facilities for slaughtering, processing and even for storing which is what businesses and companies look for. Government is trying to help these farmers meet the necessary standards,” he said.
SICCI Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ms Atenasi Ata emphasized the value of engagement of the private sector when regulatory bodies develop and implement new measures.
“It is not ideal when regulatory changes are developed with no consultation or prior information flow maintained to the wider business community. The private sector thrives by being kept up to date on changes that impact on operations.
“Further, with their extensive networks in the country businesses can also contribute to swift remedial actions to address threats,” the SICCI CEO said.
SICCI looks forward to more meaningful interactions with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock as well as other key Government agencies in the months ahead.